Leaders of the World's Three Major Patent Offices Sign Memorandum of Understanding

U.S., Europe, and Japan Further Their Coordination, Cooperation and Harmonization Efforts at 22nd Annual Trilateral Conference
Press Release

Ruth Nyblod

Heads of the Department of Commerce's United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), the European Patent Office (EPO), and the Japan Patent Office (JPO) today signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to coordinate work sharing, electronic business developments to support work sharing, and harmonization or standardization of search strategies, tools and substantive patent law. The 22nd Annual Trilateral Conference held this week at the USPTO in Alexandria, Va. continues the cooperative effort that began in 1983 among the three offices, known as the Trilateral Offices.

"Significant progress was achieved this week which allowed for the conclusion of a MOU among our three offices," noted Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property Jon Dudas. "By working together, our efforts to address common challenges can be maximized." This statement is fully supported by both the JPO Commissioner Ogawa and the EPO President Pompidou.

The focus of the Trilateral Conference was to address workload challenges resulting from growth and complexity of patent applications. More than 80 percent of the world's patent applications are filed in the Trilateral Offices. Individually, the three offices have addressed these issues by increasing hiring of patent examiners and investing in automation and other search tools. Together the Trilateral Offices agreed, in part, to the following:

In the area of work sharing, the offices recognized that exploiting the prior art search results performed by another office to the maximum extent practicable will reduce duplication of efforts with the aim to decrease workloads and enhance patent quality policy in each office. A further examiner exchange will be conducted in the spring of 2005 to help reduce any gaps identified within the search exchange project and a trilateral emerging technologies working group will be established to share ideas on best practices for effective examination of patent applications in emerging technologies.

The three offices will continue working toward data compatibility with the various electronic filing systems so that an application can be authored once and filed in multiple countries. Providing mutual access to the electronic files of each office would enable each office's examiners to access application content, examination search results, priority documents, and other related information among the offices. The three offices will begin a pilot for this access at the end of November 2004.

They will continue discussions on international patent classification reform and substantive patent law harmonization. The offices are seeking ways to harmonize the substantive standards for granting patents, and the basis on which searches and examinations are conducted. This harmonization should allow patent applicants around the world to have confidence that any harmonized standards are applied objectively in each office conducting the searches and examinations.

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